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Dublin and Boston: speaking the same language

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 23, 2011

Reading the notes of the important speech that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin delivered in Cambridge, my first thought was that the archbishop had read my book. 

The Faithful Departed is primarily about Boston, and how the processes of secularization and accommodation worked to undermine the public influence of the Catholic Church-- not just over the past decade, but rather the past century. Although the focus of the book is on Catholicism in Boston, I argue that the same process could be seen in many other traditionally Catholic communities. 

In Ireland, the Church has faced the same set of circumstances that faced the Church in Boston: a public culture thoroughly permeated with Catholic influence, yet increasingly indifferent to the Catholic faith. Sure enough, exactly the same process of secularization has been evident in Ireland, Archbishop Martin told his Cambridge audience. 

In Faithful Departed I made the observations that ex-Catholics form the largest religious bloc in greater Boston. At Cambridge, Archbishop Martin conceded that Catholics form a "minority culture" in today's Ireland. I argued that the sex-abuse scandal was not the root cause of the collapse of Catholic influence in Boston, but a symptom of a more long-lasting disease. Archbishop Martin says the same of the trend in Ireland.

In the book I argue that when prelates soft-pedal the teachings of the faith in order to enhance their public standing, they undermine the religious solidarity on which that public standing is based. Archbishop Martin made the same point:

The paradoxical thing is that the farther the Church goes in adapting to the culture of the times, the greater is the danger that it will no longer be able to confront the culture of the time.  

After humoring myself with the notion that Archbishop Martin had read my book (or perhaps the notes from a lecture I delivered in Dublin last July), I had a second, more modest, thought. He doesn't need to read the book. He already gets the picture.

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